'Gay gene' donation row in New Zealand
Dr. Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust27 March 2006
A New Zealand genetics professor has outraged gay rights activists by claiming that a 'gay gene' could be passed on to offspring of gay sperm donors and, therefore, that recipients of sperm from sperm banks should be warned if it came from a gay man. Professor Frank Sin, of Canterbury University, Christchurch, said that it was 'not daydreaming' to suggest that sexual orientation was inheritable, and that animal models clearly showed the existence of a gene that controls sexual behaviour. Allan-John Marsh, a spokesman for the Gay Association of Professionals, said that the statement was 'insulting and pathetic' and that it 'implies that being gay is somehow inferior'. 'It's not a disease, not a handicap', he added.
The row has come after a fertility clinic in New Zealand's capital, Wellington, recently overturned a ban on allowing gay men to become sperm donors. The clinic, Fertility Associates, previously only accepted sperm from gay donors if the men came in to act as a known donor for a specific couple - but gay men were not able to donate sperm for the clinic's general sperm bank. The clinic had originally justified its position by saying that gay men had a higher risk of being infected with the HIV virus, and the rule stemmed back to the early days of HIV. The rule had remained in place even though routine tests are now undertaken on all sperm samples.
The clinic's policy came to light after a Wellington man and his partner were both turned away as sperm donors by the clinic because they were gay. They had responded to calls for men to donate their sperm that were issued as part of a campaign highlighting a national shortage of sperm donors. The men approached New Zealand's Human Rights Commission (HRC) about the clinic's policy, saying that it was 'blatant and irrational discrimination'. The HRC then approached the clinic about changing its policy.
Richard Fisher, a Fertility Associates spokesman, later announced that following further advice from the previous committee chairman that clinics are now, under new guidelines issued last year, able to set their own risk parameters, he had decided to allow donations from gay men. He explained that the Human Rights Committee had helped Fertility Associates work out a way to screen potential donors in a non-discriminatory way, subjecting everyone to the same questions and testing regime. All donated sperm will be tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C, before being quarantined for six months. At that point, the donor would be tested again and, if all clear, his sperm would be added to the donor pool.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.